In this first of a series of blogs on environmental safety and health in the workplace guest blogger Mark Hall introduces us to the dangers of asbestos.
It's not hard to understand why the presence of hazardous materials in a workplace would be detrimental to the health of those who work in that environment. Sometimes these hazards are easy to recognize. In the case of asbestos, a naturally forming toxic mineral known to cause cancer, the health threat is especially dangerous -- and it can be equally difficult to spot.
Lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, and pleural plaques are diseases linked to interaction with asbestos. Unfortunately, because of the small fibers of asbestos, its presence is not always apparent.
Workplace exposure can happen when an employee works in a facility that manufacturers asbestos-containing products, or works within a building that was constructed with asbestos.
Asbestos in the Workplace
Because of the many industrial benefits associated with asbestos, such as its heat resistant properties and insulation advantages, it can be found in thousands of products. Employees who work in industries where these products are more prevalent are at increased risk of exposure.
In fact, that National Institute for Occupational Health outlines over 75 working groups where asbestos exposure has occurred. Occupations where asbestos exposure is a concern include:
- Auto mechanics
- Railroad workers
- U.S. Navy Veterans
- Boiler workers
- Metal workers
- Power plant workers
- Steel mill workers
After years of continual exposure to asbestos, the health effects may not be clearly apparent. Due to the slow development of many of the diseases, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases can take 20 to 50 years to demonstrate symptoms.
As the scientific community affirmed the connection between asbestos and deadly diseases back in the 1970s, more rules were put in place to protect workers. Government entities like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have devised regulations to help minimize the current risk that asbestos could pose.
For example, one OSHA regulation regarding asbestos states: “The employer shall ensure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of asbestos in excess of 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air as an eight (8)-hour time-weighted average.”
Even with the existence of regulations, occupational exposure to asbestos has still occurred. However, compared to prior decades, occupational exposure is dramatically less of a concern because of improved safety and health regulations, policies, and standards.
Getting a Diagnosis and Treatment
For those who do develop an asbestos-related disease though, getting it detected early gives you the best route to a positive prognosis. Treatment options are limited and typically involve some form of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or experimental procedure.
Common symptoms of asbestos-related diseases include: problems breathing, coughing, wheezing, and chest pains, along with others. Receiving an early diagnosis will help determine what treatment options will be most effective.
Mark Hall is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. Between his interests in environmental health and his writing experiences, Mark has committed to communicating relevant news and information regarding the dangers of asbestos exposure and breakthroughs in mesothelioma treatments.